Halak, Thomas set to tango;
Thursday's game draws high television rating
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues' Jaroslav Halak and Boston's Tim Thomas have been at the head of the class as far as goaltenders are concerned this season. The two have put up impressive numbers in the early going.
The two teams meet today at 6 p.m. in Boston (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM) but it's not a guarantee they will go head-to-head.
The Blues (7-1-2) and Bruins (7-3-0) are off to terrific starts to their respective seasons thus far and the guys standing between the pipes have been key contributors.
Halak (7-1-1 with a 1.53 goals-against average and .940 save percentage) has been as good as advertised for the Blues. He's also got three shutouts, including a 25-save effort during Thursday's 2-0 win over San Jose, in his nine starts. The three shutouts are tied for the league lead with -- you guess it! -- Thomas.
Halak is expected to get the start once again for the Blues, but Thomas (7-0-0), who has a 1.05 GAA and .967 save percentage to go with those three shutouts, was not expected to get the start tonight. It was supposed to be Tuukka Rask, but that all might change since Thomas was pulled after two periods of Boston's 5-3 loss at Washington Friday night.
If the Blues do in fact face Thomas tonight, one person who knows him well: Blues forward Brad Boyes, who played with Thomas while the two were in Boston and in the minor leagues together.
If Halak and Thomas face off, it will be a battle of contrasting goalies.
"With Timmy, you can't compare any style," Boyes said of Thomas. "He's very unorthodox, flops all over the place, gets out of position a lot. But the thing with him is he never gives up. He's very tough to score on because his efforts, his second efforts, his diving across ... you think you've got him, but you don't. That's something for him that is good. It's tough to explain it, and Jaro's very calm, very good angles, things like that. He doesn't give you many angles to shoot at."
Halak, who comes in with another shutout streak at 100 minutes, 3 seconds, has helped the Blues flying out of the gates in goals allowed. The Blues are tops in the NHL, allowing only 17 goals through 10 games, an average of 1.60 goals per game.
"Everybody agrees that a really good team has a really good goalie," Blues center Patrik Berglund said. "Sometimes you struggle, but it's important that a goalie can come in and really help you out so you can catch onto a second wind. I think he's been doing that for us this year."
* Blues schedule off and running now -- After playing the fewest amount of games through the first month of the season, along with tonight's opponent Boston, the Blues are into November and as Boyes put it, "The football schedule we've had now, I don't think it's going to last very long."
No, it isn't, as the Blues are in the middle of three games in four nights -- by far their busiest stretch of hockey this season. With Thursday night's win over San Jose, the Blues began a stretch of 14 games in 27 days. It sounds like a lot, but when a team is playing well, it's good to be on the ice.
"We have to obviously take it one game at a time, but I don't mind the busy schedule," Berglund said. "I think that's more fun now when you're in the season. When you play a game and have plenty of days off, you kind of get off the game mode a little bit even though you practice hard. I always notice that the game speed is a little different when you've been practicing for four days."
Said Boyes, "You get momentum when you're playing well. You get good things happening, which is good. ... When things are going well, you want to play out there and take advantage of that."
* Scouting the Bruins -- The Blues will find out quickly that they might be playing a team with a mirror image of themselves.
The Bruins are right behind the Blues, allowing only 18 goals in 10 games, so for a team that has not scored a ton themselves, the Blues (28 goals scored) will have their hands full.
So how do the Blues attack Boston's defense?
"You've got to find a way to get to the inside," Payne said. "You've got to find a way to get the puck, too. They've got a goaltender (Thomas) who's stopping just about everything as well. Finding a way to get plays there and get to the interior and having a look at a second chance, they're a team that's committed right now to playing great team defense. It's going to be a situation where our commitment and our willingness to go into that area is going to be crucial if we're going to get chances."
* Power play futility -- This might not be the best game to go up against the league's No. 1 penalty killing unit, but that's what the Blues are facing tonight.
Boston, which is killing off penalties at a 92.1 percent clip through 10 games, has allowed only three goals in 38 tries. Compared to the Blues, who are 3-for-28 on the power play in the last seven games including 0-for-7 Thursday, this might not be the best place to try and right the ship.
"Not very good," Payne assessed the power play after Thursday's win. "A couple issues in the first period dealing with pressure., dealing with decision-making, dealing with effort. We got scrambled up in the second period, had a little better effort. Fortunately for us, it wasn't the difference in the game. We were still able to get the two goals to win a hockey game as the power play looked like that."
* TV ratings soaring -- The Blues enjoyed a 5.6 household rating, which eclipsed their previous FSN high, a 5.0 rating on March 29, 2000 against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"We are pleased but not surprised at the enthusiasm St. Louis has shown in both its viewership and attendance at Scottrade Center this season,” said St. Louis Blues Vice Chairman and CEO Mike McCarthy. "At this point early in the season, to have had six sellouts and the highest rating in Fox Sports Midwest history is a true indication of the bond between this team and its fans."